A Michener Tale and Six Degrees of Separation

It’s snowy and rainy and cold outside, and the all-knowing groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, just predicted six more weeks of winter. Brr! On days like these, we just want to curl up with a cup of hot tea and a good book, and wait out the bad weather.

If you’re not aware, Hargrave House has its own small collection of books available for your reading pleasure. In fact, we have a shelf devoted to noted author James Michener, who was reared in Doylestown. One of his high school buddies, W. Lester Trauch, lived at Hargrave House with his family in the 1930s (see our blog dated Nov. 24, 2014). The two men formed a lifelong friendship and kept in touch even when Michener’s post as a lieutenant during World War II took him halfway across the world. It was during this time that Michener wrote what became his Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, “Tales of the South Pacific.” Trauch, who was then a court reporter for The Daily Intelligencer in Doylestown, had the distinction of reading a rough draft when Michener asked him to review it.

“He didn’t have the money to have it typed beautifully the way a manuscript should be,” Trauch recalled in an article that appeared in The Morning Call in 1997. “It was written on the back of naval orders and on envelopes. He didn’t have access to paper in the Pacific. A lot of it was typed on both sides of the paper. It was a hodgepodge. After he left, I put the manuscript down and told my mother, ‘If the house catches fire, grab this because it’s irreplaceable.’ “

The book ended up being adapted as a Broadway musical, “South Pacific,” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and later as a Hollywood movie. (Hammerstein has ties to Doylestown as well, living less than a mile away at Highland Farm for 20 years until his death in 1960.)